As part of Newham Heritage Month, the Thames sailing barge Blue Mermaid - will be visiting the ExCel centre in the Royal Docks and will be welcoming visitors aboard from 1pm-7pm on 25th and 26th May. Schools and local residents will have the opportunity to get on board and talk to the crew to see how barges were sailed, learn about their history, and their place in Newham’s story.
They will be moored in front of the ExCel centre directly opposite the historic Millennium Mills. The closest tube station is Customs House for ExCel on the DLR line, and free parking is available in the ExCel centre. The boat will be at the Westerly end of the ExCel centre by the Royal Docks footbridge, there will be toilet facilities in the ExCel and there is a small café at Custom House Station. Visitors should register for free here: https://www.newhamheritagemonth.org/events/heritage-boats-open-days-at-excel/
Blue Mermaid is special because she is a newly built barge that has no engine and relies on sail alone – as did most barges until the 1950s. She has been built to carry out trade as the barges traditionally would have done, and to make a powerful statement about sustainable cargo transport.
A pioneering aspect of the visit is the carrying of a small cargo of brick clay and sand from Essex up the Thames to London by sea. The materials will be handed over to brickmakers from Newham Brickfield, a participatory art project arranged by University of East London and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Brickfield Newham aims to explores the connections between Newham’s residents and the place they live through the history of Newham’s brickfields. This relates to the important historic role of the barges, in which they carried London’s waste to Essex and Kent to brickworks where it was burnt in kilns to produce the familiar yellow London stock brick, which the barges brought to London in such quantities that up to 1 million bricks could arrive in London in a single day.
Newham Heritage Month’s 2021 theme is “Shops, Docks, and Factories”, organised by the Council and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and supported by Royal Docks Team. The month offers free activities taking place across the borough to showcase the rich and diverse heritage of Newham. The Royal Docks played an integral role in the trading and distribution of cargoes arriving in London from all over the world, but also included the sailing barges, of which there were over 3,000 estimated to have been in use early in the 20th century carrying every day, but crucial cargoes.
In order to make this happen, many people are volunteering their time for free, and The Maritime Heritage Trust are currently raising funds for the remainder of the costs. If successful, MHT will produce a short film to document Blue Mermaid’s journey to London with her token cargo to raise awareness of the event and for maritime heritage more generally, please donate to help make this happen:
- ExCel Centre in Royal Docks, London